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Joseph, Mary's husband, whose reputed first-born Jesus was, and therefore in the eye of the nation the representative of his family, enters on the narrative of his conception by the power of the Holy Ghost, of the Divine intimation thereof to Joseph (who is spoken to as the son of David, his genealogy having been already derived from that royal stem), and of God's commandment that the child's name should be Jesus, “ for he shall save his people from their sins.” Then it is added (verse 22), “ Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the Prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bring forth a Son; and they shall call his name Immanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us.” There can be no doubt, therefore, that the prophecy in Isaiah did receive its fulfilment in this act of the immaculate conception, because it is expressly so declared by the Holy Spirit. Let us, then, by this leading light endeavour to steer our way through the prophecy itself.
The occasion of this signal propliecy was as signal as the prophecy itself. Samaria, the head of the Ten Tribes, did confederate with Damascus, the head of Syria, for no less an object than to cut off the royal line of David from the throne of Judah in Jerusalem. But the Lord had promised, and with an oath had sworn it to David, “Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne will He establish for ever” (2 Sam. vii. 16). To which promise frequent reference is made in the Psalms : as, lxxxix. 4, “ I have sworn unto David my Servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations :" cxxxii. 11, “ The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David, he will not turn from it, Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.”. This confederacy of Samaria and Damascus was therefore no less than a conspiracy against the word and oath of God, which he had given to David his servant; and therefore it was a fit and worthy occasion for God to interfere and assure the house of David, “whose heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.” To prove, therefore, the strength of his own word, and its mightiness to overthrow the strength of confederate kings, he commissioned Isaiah to deliver this prophecy concerning Immanuel, the Son of David; for whose sake the promise of the throne had been given to David, as the promise of the inheritance had been given to Abraham. That we are right in this judgment concerning the purpose of the prophecy, is evident from the language with which the following and the only other prophecy concerning Immanuel concludes (Isaiah ix. 7), “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever.” Which makes it manifest that it was given to confirm the oath made unto David against the conspiracy now undertaken to subvert his throne, and to cut off his royal line.
Let us now examine the prophecy itself. The Lord commandeth the prophet to take with him his son Shear-jashub, for reasons which we shall see hereafter, to go forth to meet Ahaz the king, and to say unto him, " Take heed, and be quiet : fear not, neither be faint-hearted, for the two tails of these smoking fire-brands; for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal; thus saith the Lord God, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass : for the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin ; and within threescore-and-five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” This first part of the prophecy was given to quiet the mind of Ahaz and his people, in order to his receiving the great and mysterious prediction of Immanuel. And, like the overture of all far-distant prophecies, it served the important end of verifying the prophecy itself, which was to wait for its accomplishment; enshrining it, as it were, in an enduring casket of incontrovertible truth. Moreover, it served this important end in itself, of shewing wherefore Israel was broken from being a people; because they rebelled and levied war against the house of David, God's appointed line for transmitting the sceptre unto Shiloh : by striking at which consecrated dynasty they struck at Messiah, in the loins of Ahaz: and therefore were broken from being a people, and are broken still. The prediction was given seven hundred and forty-two years before Christ: from which take sixty-five years, and you arrive at the year six hundred and seventy-seven. Now, if we turn to the Second Book of Kings (ch. xvii.) we find that in that very year (verse 23) Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day, and other nations planted there in their room. The kingdom indeed of Israel, and Samaria its capital, had been overthrown before within twenty years from the giving of this prophecy; but still there remained a seed in the land, a remnant of the people ; so that they were not as yet broken from being a people : but at the end of the threescore-and-five years appointed, their land was planted with strangers--a new language, a new religion, and a new people possessed it, whom the Jews until this day reject, as not being the people of Israel, but a spurious people ; and because they would claim to be a
pure people, the Jews, God's witnesses, took up, and maintained until our Lord's time, and do still maintain, their inveterate national hatred to the Samaritans. Upon which prediction and its fulfilment we may observe these two things before proceeding :
First, How exact and literal is the accomplishment of prophecy, even to every jot and tittle! Ephraim had been broken in every other respect forty years before, except that till now he was not broken from being a people. So that upon
the force of this word people rests the veracity of the prophecy. And perhaps this is the reason why the prediction is placed in the middle, between the enunciations of the style and dignity of Rezin and of Remaliah, that God, with a certain severe satire
their pompous pretensions, would tell the burden of Ephraim, That in sixtyfive
years he should not have the shadow of a name. teach us a lesson, in the outset of these interpretations, how careful we should be not to suffer one iota of the prophecy to be explained away, lest thereby we lose the truth of the whole.
Our second observation is, That the accomplishment of a prophecy never wanteth for a witness, neither need that witness be carefully sought, but will be found standing out of its own accord in the broadest lines and distinctions of the world. The Jewish nation would rather have died to a man, than suffered these Samaritans to steal the name of the pure seed of Abraham, testifying thereby that Ephraim was lost and broken.
The prediction above recited is, however, but the overture and voucher of the great prophecy which Isaiah at this time was commissioned to give to Ahaz; but which, because of its remoteness, required to be sealed up with the signet of God. This was done by delivering it at the same time and by the same mouth, with the former prediction, which was soon to be fulfilled in a great event; the fulfilled being God's stamp upon the unfulfilled, until the time that it should be fulfilled. Now the substance, and as it were nucleus, of the prophecy, is thus introduced : “If ye will not believe, ye shall not be established.” The prophet espied incredulity in Ahaz. Like wicked men,consciencestricken with the apprehension of instant evil ; like worldly-wise men, measuring every thing, and the word of God also, by outward appearances, Ahaz heard the Prophet, but had little faith in his word: therefore the Prophet spake to him, and to the house of David in him, and to all to whom the word of God should come, the most important of all truths, saying, “ If ye will not believe, ye shall not be established.” But the unbelief of Ahaz was not to prevent the Lord from fully telling out his purpose. Wherefore we have (verse 10), using the marginal reading, “And the Lord added to speak unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God : ask it either in the depth or in the
height above.” The Lord would have removed the doubt of the king, by giving him a sign such as he afterwards gave to his son Hezekiah, who had faith, and was established by the miraculous interposition of God. But Ahaz was too wicked and worldly either to ask a sign of his own accord, as Abraham did, or yet to ask it when permitted and entreated to do so by the Prophet ; and in the peevishness or hypocrisy of unbelief he excused himself, with Pharisaical language; saying, “ I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.” Upon which the Prophet, unmasking the hypocritical ungodly king, broke forth with these words: “ Hear ye now, O house of David, Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also ? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign.
It is remarkable that the Prophet should change the person to whom he speaketh, in the first instance addressing Ahaz, but now making his appeal to the house of David. For this there is good reason, because, as we shall see in the sequel, the sign given was not to Ahaz in particular, nor indeed to any one in particular, but to the house of David in general, shewing that they should be established in their peculiar dignity promised and sworn unto David, as hath been said above. And what now is the sign? Something visible, like that given to Hezekiah, when the shadow went back fifteen degrees upon the dial of Ahaz? No. That was offered to Ahaz, but he had not faith to receive it: signs are not given, yea, we may say are not possible to be given, but where there is a measure of faith. The impotent man had faith to be healed, and he was healed; but at Nazareth “ Jesus could do no mighty work, save that he laid his hand upon a few sick folk and healed them, and he marvelled because of their unbelief.” (Mark vi. 5.) So, because of his unbelief, Ahaz received no sign. The sign, is a sign of the Lord's own proffering, not to Ahaz, but to the house of David; which in his own good time he would give once for all, and never again; that it might stand solitary and alone in the records of creation, for a witness to the house of David, that it should be established for ever, according to the word and the oath of God. And to the house of David he utters it, that those who had faith amongst them might believe and be established: “ Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The sign, therefore, I conceive to lie in the prophecy itself; a sign, to the believer, that David's house and David's throne shall never be subverted in Israel: according to that word of the Apostle (1 Cor. xiv. 22), “ Prophecy is for a sign, not to the unbelievers, but to the believers.” Examples of this kind occur every where in Scripture: as, when the Lord pronounceth judgment upon Eli's house, the sign is, that Hophni and Phineas his two sons should die in one day, both of them (1 Sam. ii. 34); one
prophecy being the sign of another. And our Lord in the Gospels giveth the prophecy of his own burial in the heart of the earth, as the sign of what should come unto that evil and adulterous generation, who were to be buried and lost in the womb of the Leviathan, or Great Dragon, or the Earth (for by all these names the Roman Empire is denoted), as his body was hid for a season in the grave, and Jonah's life for a season shut up in the belly of the whale. Abraham asked God for a sign whereby, he should know that he should inherit the land (Gen. xv. 8), and he received a promise of the four hundred years' captivity in Egypt. And, indeed, I may say that it is the rule of all revelation, to make one event prophesied of the sign of another remoter event at the same time prophesied of. For example : we have seen in this very prophecy the destruction of Israel from being a people coming in as the voucher for this prophecy of Immanuel ; which, when fulfilled, should, in its turn be the voucher for the ultimate design of the prophecy, the establishment of the house of David. When, therefore, the house of David saw this prophecy fulfilled in a virgin of the house of David, afterwards married also to a man of the house of David
so that both as virgin and as wife she was of the house of David; her Son also, both in the eye of faith (beholding him the virgin's Son), and in the eye of law (holding him for Joseph's Son), being likewise of the house of David-when, I say, this prophecy had been accomplished, the house of David, looking thereupon in their low estate, should have taken heart and believed, and the whole Jewish nation should have taken heart and believed: and every Gentile, and every Jew, who believeth that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of a virgin, should believe upon this sure sign, even if there were no other evidence, that the house of David shall surely be established for ever, as the Lord hath sworn; and that all confederacies formed against the Lord and his Anointed One shall come to nought, like that first confederacy of Rezin and Remaliah's son.
If, now, it be inquired, how Immanuel's birth of a virgin was the sign of all which in this and the following passage of prophecy is set forth concerning Immanuel's boundless and eternal government of the earth and of all things, it is answered, in the language of the angel which announced the wonderful Child unto his mother, “ Therefore also that Holy Thing, which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God:" it is answered, in the language of the covenant made with David, that by this miraculous conception God fulfilled that word (2 Sam. vii. 14), " I will be his father, and he shall be my Son.” In which word the Holy Ghost, in the mouth of David, maketh his dignity above all kings to consist: Ps. lxxxix. 26, “ He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of iny salvation: